A more science-friendly constitution: on March 7, Swiss voters will decide on a proposed constitutional amendment, providing a legal foundation for scientists to conduct research on humans. Scientists have been waiting a long time for such a proposal; however, unsurprisingly it is not without its opponents.

Author:Gallinelli, Sven


Believe it or not, there are areas where legislation-loving Switzerland is missing regulation. One such example is medical and scientific research on humans. Currently, scientists receive no guidelines for dealing legally with this sometimes-controversial area: a deficit also identified by the Swiss government. The result is the March referendum, when Swiss voters will be asked to approve a new paragraph in their constitution defining human research boundaries for the first time.

This is a moment scientists have long been waiting for. "The new constitution paragraph is the basis for nationwide rules concerning human research and protects the dignity and personal rights of persons involved in researches," the Swiss National Fund for Advancing Scientific Research wrote in a media release on January 25. "It enables an open dialogue between society and science, and will be a help in order to understand and research diseases," the Fund continued.

It is an argument supported by Professor Heini Muter, who is prorector of Zurich University and responsible for medicine and natural sciences. He claims that, "human research really is necessary, but we indeed need regulations for the purpose of safety and ethics. With the amendment, we can reduce the danger of abusive or carelessly performed research."

Strict rules

Many important scientists throughout the country strongly support the constitutional amendment; however, the proposal certainly doesn't represent a carte blanche for researchers. The Swiss Federal Council has defined tight rules:

  1. People can only take part in a research project if they have been fully informed of all relevant aspects of the project and they have agreed to being involved. If the individual is a minor or unable to make such a decision because of illness, the responsibility shifts to those with the power of attorney. No one can be forced to take part in a scientific project.

  2. Potential candidates unable to voice their feelings--such as young children, dementia patients or the mentally handicapped--need special protection. They should only be alowed to take part in human research if the project is conneced with their disease or disability and if there is no other way to do the testing on healthy people (for example, many medcines for fighting childhood diseases can only be tested on children, because adults would react differently).

  3. Any risk or stress to the person taking part in a research project...

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